Best of Connecticut 2010: Food and Drink
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Sweet Maria’s Waterbury, (203) 755-3804 (sweet-marias.com)
Maria Bruscino Sanchez was born to bake! She grew up doing it and eventually opened Sweet Maria’s, where she now turns out all sorts of tasty treats. Cookies are a specialty—in addition to having written two cookbooks dedicated to them, she also regularly bakes a dozen different types, including such mouthwatering gems as chocolate almond macaroons, fluffer nutter bars, mocha walnut balls and thumbprints (raspberry, apricot with walnuts or pineapple-coconut-filled). Sweet!
Carmen Anthony Steakhouse and Fishhouse Avon, (860) 677-7788, and other locations (carmenanthony.com)
When a crab is caught in a trap at the bottom of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, it doesn’t know where it’s going to end up—but if it knew that it was going to be the star of one of Carmen Anthony’s award-winning specialties and thus, making some Connecticut diner very happy, it might be okay with its fate. If you’re a crab, there are worse things than being encrusted with potato, fried to a golden brown and served with a special remoulade sauce, right? Of course, if you’re a diner, it’s even better!
La Rosticceria Guilford, (203) 458-8885 (guilfordtakeout.com)
We first tried these delicious cakes at R.J. Julia Booksellers café in Madison. It was the coconut with lemon buttercream that sent us looking for the source—La Rosticceria, where chef Antonio Greco bakes a dozen cupcake varieties including German chocolate with pecan, coconut and caramel frosting, cappuccino with mocha buttercream, and the Elvis—banana cake with chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse icing. Really, every cupcake from La Rosticceria is fit for a king.
Rein’s Vernon, (860) 875-1344 (reinsdeli.com)
Since 1972, the Rein famly has been proving that, just as a tree can grow in Brooklyn, a New York-style deli can flourish outside Hartford, just off I-84 in fact. Whether you’re hungering for matzoh-ball soup, pastrami and/or corned beef on rye or just-like-grandma’s blintzes, your search ends here. Adding to the New York flavor are train station signs directing you to Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island and Flushing (the last self-explanatory). Still hungry? Order a New York cheesecake to go.
The Cupcake Truck New Haven, (203) 675-3965 (followthatcupcake.com)
Nosh at The Cupcake Truck and travel the world: You’ll find farm-fresh Vermont butter, Belgian chocolate, Madagascar vanilla, Vietnamese cinnamon, French sea salt and Grenada nutmeg—all within a small stretch of New Haven’s downtown for $2 a pop. Our favorite combos among the eight yummy homemade flavors and four frostings are Chocolate Ruin with vanilla buttercream, Red Velvet Jones with white chocolate cream cheese and Salted Caramel with, well, salted caramel. Check in with fooddriven.blogspot.com to see where the truck is parked on any given weekday; if you order four dozen or more online, the truck will deliver to you.
O’Rourke’s Middletown, (860) 346-6101 (orourkesdiner.com)
We are so thankful for O’Rourke’s—after losing it to a fire in 2006, the community banded together to help rebuild the Middletown landmark, and as of early 2007, it’s been back and better than ever. We can’t imagine a morning without Irish Soda Bread French Toast, the Cajun Firecracker Omelet or the elusive Brian’s Breakfast (“available only when the time is right”). Breakfast is the standout, but there’s great lunch and dinner picks, too.
A Bird’s-eye View
PolytechnicON20 Hartford, (860) 722-5161 (ontwenty.com)
In Connecticut, we tend to think of a table with a view as being along the shore or perhaps amidst pastures and hills. But PolytechnicON20 proves that a city view can be just as enchanting. Here, on the 20th floor of the Hartford Steam Boiler building in downtown Hartford, is a big-windowed aerie offering downward and distant views of city buildings and streets, the Connecticut River and what seems like all of eastern Connecticut. The best time to enjoy it may be as dusk falls, when the lights come on all around and chef Noel Jones’ cuisine seems especially romantic. Check the website for live entertainment, too. It only seems to improve the view.
Gilson Café Cinema Winsted, (860) 379-5108 (gilsoncafecinema.com)
Located in a former vaudeville house/dance hall/what-have-you known as The Strand, the unique Gilson, now 25 years old, deserves a “best” nod for its Art Deco marquee alone. A classic cinema “twin” (with a main theater seating roughly 200 and an upstairs lounge accommodating 50), it offers first-run fare for $7.50—doors open at 6 p.m.— which you can enjoy with a selection of bar food ranging from a cheese-and-cracker plate to hot sandwiches and simple pasta dishes to great, gooey desserts (we recommend the hot fudge brownie with two scoops of vanilla ice cream). Those with simpler tastes should know that the real-butter-topped popcorn is $2. What other movie theater can still make that claim?
A Sunset View
The Boulders Inn New Preston, (860) 868-0541 (bouldersinn.com)
The distinctive 1890s inn is enchanting any time of day, but at day’s end the glass-walled living room and dining room offer front-row seats for sunset over shimmering Lake Waramaug. On a clear summer or early fall evening, you can drink in that view in best from the hillside dining terrace, a magical vantage point to one of Connecticut’s true natural wonders.
Infinity Music Hall & Bistro Norfolk, (866) 666-6306 (infinityhall.com)
We feel a little like an extra in Cabaret when we attend a show at Infinity Hall, set in a rustic 1883 opera house that still features its original proscenium stage. Performers from every niche—folk, blues and bluegrass musicians, kids’ entertainers, classic rockers and comedians—flock here to the tune of 200 shows a year, we suspect because of its intimacy (300 seats) and informality. Audiences gather not just for those reasons but also to check out the new Infinity Bistro downstairs, which serves brunch, lunch and dinner (as well as a “mezzanine menu” for those who prefer to dine in the music hall itself). Gourmet edibles include lobster hushpuppies, Parmesan-and-basil crêpes and pan-crisped halibut. Upcoming gigs will feature Paula Poundstone, Arlo Guthrie and the Seldom Scene.
Black-Eyed Sally’s BBQ Hartford, (860) 278-7427 (blackeyedsallys.com)
Not only does Black-Eyed Sally’s serve up all the best down-home barbecue and Cajun dishes—jambalaya, Southern fried chicken and Memphis-style pork ribs to name a few—they also feature live performances by some of the best in jazz, blues, rock and roots music. Enjoy open blues jams, held every Wednesday night, while dining on some good ol’ comfort food.
A Water View
Flood Tide Inn at Mystic, Mystic, (860) 536-9604 (innatmystic.com)
This Mystic landmark tops our list for dinner and water view, thanks to its primo hillside setting overlooking Mystic Harbor. The view is especially beguiling at dusk or after dark, when twinkling lights add to the magic. Request a table by a window and savor the view along with some of the restaurant’s signature dishes, among them Caesar salad prepared tableside and lobster crêpes, a classic indulgence featuring Stonington lobster meat, wild mushrooms, Madeira and shallot cream.
Dock and Dine Terra Mar Old Saybrook, (860) 388-1111 (saybrook.com).
....Whether you’re on a small yawlor a mega motor yacht, it’s lots of fun to dine aboard. But there are times when even the most avid sailors want to come ashore for fine wine and gourmet food in a beautiful room with a marina alongside where the boat can reside for an hour or two or overnight. Terra Mar Restaurant at Saybrook Point Inn and Spa has a prize-winning wine list and a talented chef who creates elegant, complex dishes even the best galley chef is not likely to turn out. Tuna tartare with wasabi-lime vinaigrette, watermelon cardamom salad and a sesame miso tuile, frozen choolate mousse with coconut meringue, passion fruit sauce and caramelized bananas. A port to remember.